abysm of time a reference to the hellish chaos, the unfathomable chasm that spawned Grendel's mother and other descendants of Cain.
Aelfhere some scholars think that this is a reference to Beowulf, indicating that Wiglaf is related, perhaps a cousin.
battle-flame the sword, Hrunting.
Battle-Scylfings Swedes. The Geats have a long feud with the Scylfings.
battle-talon another reference to Grendel's claw.
body-warden a kenning for a chain-mail shirt.
The bold Scylding the poet associates Beowulf with the Scyldings, perhaps out of respect for his loyal service, even though the champion is a Geat.
bone-house a kenning for the body.
Bright-Danes another name for the Scyldings, the reference to shining light.
burnished polished until glossy.
chant-wood a kenning for the scop's harp, with which he accompanied himself as he sang or chanted a story-song.
chief of the War-Scyldings Hnaef.
crest-glider a kenning for ship.
Daeghrefn a Frisian warrior, champion of the Hugas, whose beating heart Beowulf, as a young man, crushed with his bare hands.
dawn-scorcher, flame-snake, the worm epithets for the dragon.
doom here, eternal judgment.
Eadgils and Eanmund Ohthere's sons, Swedes. They had a feud with their uncle, Onela, and were temporarily sheltered by Heardred. Eadgils, supplied by Beowulf, later killed Onela.
Ecgtheow Beowulf's father.
Ecgwela a former Danish leader.
eddy a current running contrary to the main current, sometimes producing whirlpools.
Eofor and Wulf fought Swedes' King Ongentheow to his death. For a chronology of the Geats' feuds, see Chickering, pp. 361-62.
Eomer son of Offa.
fen low, swampy land.
feud-bites a kenning for wounds.
Fitela nephew of Sigemund, possibly his bastard son.
flagon a vessel for holding mead or other alcoholic liquids, usually made of metal or pottery and featuring a spout as well as a handle.
Folcwalda father of Finn.
Frankish pertaining to the Franks, a Germanic tribe in the Rhine region.
Franks and Frisians Germanic tribes united in opposition to the Geats.
Frisia Hygelac was killed in an apparently ill-conceived battle with the western Frisians (allies of the Franks), not by King Finn's people of the Finnsburh episode. Hygelac's death (c. 520 AD) is one historical event in the epic; it was recorded by Saint Gregory of Tours in his Historia Francorum.
Froda king of the Heathobards, father of Ingeld.
gannet's bath a gannet is a large sea bird; its "bath," therefore, would be the sea itself.
Garmund Offa's father.
garrote a metal collar used for execution by strangulation or breaking the neck.
Geats also called Weder-Folk or Weders. This is Beowulf's tribe in southwestern Sweden.
the giants here a reference to the Frisians.
gift from the sea a reference to Grendel's head, which Beowulf brings back from the mere.
Gifthas eastern Germanic tribe.
God's opponent Grendel.
gold-laced hall Heorot
gray-bearded elders Hrothgar's senior advisors.
Guthlaf and Oslaf Half-Dane thanes.
Haereth Hygd's father.
Haethcyn killed in battle at Ravenswood (in Sweden) by Ongentheow while avenging battle of Sorrow Hill. Hygelac immediately took over leadership of the Geats.
Hama, Brosing, and Eormanric For a thorough discussion of the necklace and the Goths, see Chickering, pp. 331-333.
hand-spike a kenning referring to the nail on Grendel's claw.
Healfdene father of Hrothgar.
Heaven's hall-ruler God is metaphorically spoken of as a Germanic king.
Helmings Wealhtheow's original tribe.
Heorogar brother of Hrothgar.
Heoroweard son of Heorogar.
Herebeald, Haethcyn, and Hygelac sons of Hrethel, in order of seniority.
Heremod Danish king who ruled disgracefully before Scyld rose to power.
Hereric Queen Hygd's brother.
Hetware joined with the Franks against Hygelac.
Hetware technically, the Chattuarii; here indistinguishable from Frisians; joined with Franks against Hygelac.
high battle flames a funeral pyre suitable for a great warrior.
his heirloom sword Beowulf's sword in the dragon fight is called "Naegling."
Hoc father of Hildeburh and Hnaef.
Hondscio literally, "hand-shoe" or glove. A Geat warrior, he was Grendel's first target the night that Beowulf killed the ogre.
Hrethel father of Geats' King Hygelac; maternal grandfather of Beowulf.
Hrethric Hrothgar and Wealhtheow's elder son.
Hrothulf son of Halga, nephew of Hrothgar.
Hugas a Frisian subgroup or family.
Hugas a Frisian subgroup or family.
Hunlaf's son a Half-Dane warrior who presents the sword to Hengest.
Ingeld a prince of the Heathobards. He will later lead a raid on Heorot and burn it before being routed.
Ingwines another name for the Danes, literally "friends of Ing."
Ingwines another name for the Scyldings.
killer-guest Grendel. The poet ironically plays with the theme of hospitality.
King of Glory God, not Hrothgar.
kingdom of waters here, simply a reference to the mere and the ogres' hideaway.
kinsman of Hemming here, a reference to Offa.
Lapps inhabitants of northern Scandinavia and Finland. The Anglo-Saxon is "Finna land" (580).
lineage ancestry, background, heritage.
the lord of those rings Beowulf, with a reference to the rings that form his mail-shirt.
the lord who had killed their own ring-giver an apparent reference to Finn, although it is not clear whether he personally does the killing or even if treachery is involved.
mail flexible armor made of small, overlapping rings or scales.
mead an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and water.
mere a small lake or marsh.
Merovingian pertaining to the Franks.
middle-earth a land between Heaven and Hell, inhabited by mankind as well as a variety of good or evil creatures with origins in legend, mythology, or fantasy.
Modthrytho an example of a disreputable ruler, possibly based on a fourth-century queen.
the ninth hour the "nones," the ninth hour after sunrise, 3 p.m. As Chickering points out (p. 338), this is "the same hour that Christ, abandoned by all but a faithful few, died on the cross (see Luke 23:44-46)."
Offa king of the European (not English) Angles.
Ohthere and Onela Ongentheow's sons, Swedes. Onela killed Geat King Heardred.
Ongentheow Swede king, father of Onela and Ohthere; killed by Hygelac's retainers Wulf and Eofor at Ravenswood.
palisade a defensive fortification or fence made of pointed sticks (pales).
the prince's thane here, a reference to Hengest.
protector of nobles Beowulf.
protector of sailors Beowulf.
race of giants here, some of the descendants of Cain.
Ravenswood site (in Sweden) of major battle between Geats and Swedes.
retainer an attendant to the king, here sometimes used interchangeably with "thane."
Ring-Danes the Scyldings.
ring-giver ruler, king, feudal lord.
Ruler's favor God's preference. Sometimes God and wyrd are virtually interchangeable in the poem, possibly the result of Christian substitution.
rune-counselor an advisor especially adept at solving difficult problems.
runes letters of an alphabet used by ancient Germanic peoples, especially Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons; sometimes cryptic.
scop a bard or singing (chanting) performer who often accompanies himself on a lute or harp, presenting historical or legendary stories of interest. He might be attached to a court or travel on his own. Preferred pronunciation is "shop."
sea-wind's cloak the ship's mast.
the shearer of life-threads the magical giant sword.
shepherd of sins Grendel, perhaps in contrast to God as shepherd of souls.
shield of the people here, a reference to King Hrothgar.
son of Ecglaf Unferth.
Sorrow Hill in Geatland, site of a battle where Swedes ambushed the Geats after Hrethel's death.
Spear-Danes Scyldings, the tribe of Scyld Scefing.
striplings adolescents, young warriors.
swathe to wrap with bandages.
swift roan Horses played an important role among the royalty, but most of the fighting was executed on foot.
thanes warriors who serve a king or feudal lord in exchange for land or treasure.
two seas apparently the Baltic and the Atlantic; possibly the Baltic and the North Sea.
uncle and nephew (1164) apparently a reference to Hrothgar and Hrothulf.
unsouled The soul was believed to leave the body shortly after death.
venom-twigs Some scholars suggest that Hrunting's edge was equipped with small, sharp points to which poison may have been applied; more likely, this is a reference to the use of acid (poison) in the shaping of the points during manufacture, a customary procedure of the time.
Waegmunding scholars dispute whether this clan, with which Wiglaf and Beowulf are associated, is Swede or Geat or a mixture of the two.
Waelsing reference to Sigemund, son of Waels.
waif a forsaken or orphaned child, such as Scyld.
walking dead similar to zombies, cursed to roam the earth after death.
warlock a male witch or demon.
the web's short measure the web of life — destiny, fate, Wyrd — has spun a short life for Queen Hildeburh's brother and son.
Weland in Germanic legend, a blacksmith with magical powers; he made Beowulf's war-shirt (455).
Weohstan probably part Swede (Scylfing) and part Geat (as Chickering suggests, p. 369), father of Wiglaf. Weohstan apparently killed the Swede Eanmund on behalf of the victim's uncle, Onela, and was rewarded with Eanmund's war gear, which he eventually passed on to Wiglaf.
whale-road ocean or sea, from the Anglo-Saxon hron-rade. This is one of the poem's best known kennings, descriptive metaphors that identify a person or thing by a chief characteristic or use.
Withergyld a Heathobard warrior.
word-hoard a kenning for vocabulary.
woven snake-blade in constructing swords, numerous thin iron rods were woven together and forged to form a single blade.
Yrmenlaf a Dane, Aeschere's younger brother.